Additional Commentary on the Sherlock/Hertzberg/Hancock Debate, Page 2

SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 1 (Spring 2009)


1 Comment on this Second Page of Comments

First Page of Comments

Original Article by Sherlock with Hertzberg and Hancock Commentary




4) Commentary by V. Hudson, May 2009

Equality, Love, Marriage, Zion: A Response to Ralph Hancock

I am grateful to Ralph Hancock for engaging me in a thought-provoking set of comments.  The two of us have areas of agreement and disagreement, but I believe our agreements dwarf our disagreements.  As Hancock puts it,

“So what finally matters is that both Prof. Hudson and I recognize that the true meaning of each of these terms is bound up with the other; “equality” and “fecundity” can both be seen as ways of addressing the abundant charity and unity of this ultimate covenanted bond. Perhaps there is a sense in which each is prior to the other: the meaning of fecundity is bound up with the preciousness of every person, every eternal, embodied spirit, and the very meaning of the equal worth of persons in turn draws upon the gift of fecundity.” 
This is beautifully said, and I rejoice to read these words and consider the heart behind their writing.

Nevertheless, I am moved to say more.  As Hancock reminds us, the “more” to be said does not detract from our overwhelming agreement on these matters.  Like the Hancocks, the most meaningful and precious work my husband and I have been engaged in is the work of parenting our eight children.  So when I think to say more, this is meant to organize my thoughts more completely, more carefully, more clearly, not to disagree with Hancock’s eloquent sentiment expressed above.  Therefore I say more.

There are four points I would make in this comment:

1) Equality plays an important role in LDS theology, being integrally linked to the concept of “love” in LDS theology, and therefore we must not fear to embrace it.

2) The spousal relationship is not completely subsumed in parenthood.

3)  Public rejection of hierarchical marriage when speaking in defense of marriage is a priesthood duty.

4) Procreation frequently occurs in the absence of marriage. Marriage has an additional purpose besides procreation, and this additional purpose is ordained by God to specifically address the exploitation of women.


1) In LDS doctrine, there is a unique place for “equality” that renders it integrally bound up in what we mean by “love.”  Hancock fears that LDS use of the term “equality” will be pulled by secular gravitational forces towards a perversion of what the LDS mean by that term.  I feel, on the other hand, that the LDS will lose a deep understanding of their amazing and healing doctrine through succumbing to that fear.  And I believe that the LDS are quite able to wrest their doctrinally correct term away from the clutches of the world, as they have previously done with concepts like the nature of God and the meaning of salvation.  The LDS can be pretty darn stubborn about what they do and do not believe even in the 21st century, as the last election season demonstrated.  As one reviewer of this comment pointed out, “there are many notions that are beautiful in the light of the gospel but get distorted – nevertheless that does not mean that we should not work for the fulfillment of these key ideals.”  One example is the recent adoption of “virtue” as a value by the YW program.  In some parts of the world, a woman’s virtue is made the rationale for controlling her, assaulting her, disfiguring her, and even killing her.  The LDS don’t jettison virtue as a result of this worldly distortion of it—we clarify what we mean by the term, and we clarify that we reject using virtue as a justification for hurting women.

Back to love and equality: think about the love of God and of our Savior.  We readily acknowledge that we are not their equals.  But, heretical as it is to other faiths, we believe that God wants us to become gods also.  We believe that God ultimately hopes, plans, and acts to create a path for his children to become as God is.  In the end, what God hopes we will become are God’s friends, not God’s servants or perpetual inferiors.  The truest, most noble love is the love of a superior for an inferior where the superior makes every sacrifice so that the inferior might, if willing, become an equal.  And that is the wonder of the Savior’s Atonement: he, a superior, suffered and died so that all who will, will become equal heirs with Christ (D&C 88:107), will receive “all power” and the “fullness” of God (D&C 76: 54-56, 94-95; 132:20).  And, obviously, in this highest realm, “he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion” (D&C 76:95).

Parental love in mortality emulates godly love.  Healthy parental love sacrifices so that our children may one day stand as our equals, and be not only our children, but our friends. In fact, most parents hope that one day their children will exceed them.

But there are also relationships in which people come together not as superiors and inferiors to the end that the inferiors might be made equal; there are relationships in which people are to come together as presumed equals, and this presumption of equality becomes a spiritual mandate.  The terms used in the scriptures help us understand this is a commandment (D&C 78:5-7; 38:24-25).  And why the presumption of equality?  That we may truly love our neighbor, for if we cannot love him as our equal, as ourselves, we do not really love him.  And if we cannot truly love our neighbor, we cannot be “one,” and if we are not one, we are not “His” (D&C 38:27).

A Zion community lives the fullness of this commandment. Zion, as we know, is a place where the saints are equal in both heavenly and temporal things, which makes sense given what we know about the Church of the Firstborn, as noted above (D&C 70:14; 78:5-7).  They must come together presuming the equality of each person and then acting on it to remove any discordance between the ideal and the lived situation.  They cannot form Zion by coming together unsure of each other’s equality, or doubting it, or not even thinking about how it should order their relations.

Thus it is in the units of Zion--the marriages of that community.  Spouses are to enter their marriage relationship convinced of each other’s equality.  They cannot form a relationship that will be blessed by God if they come to the marriage altar unsure of each other’s equality or doubting it, or not even thinking about how it should order their relations.  The first utterance after God, according to LDS doctrine, married Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, was Adam’s bold declaration of Eve’s equality with him (Genesis 2:23-4).  (Adam even put in an injunction against patrilocal marriage because of its inherent ability to turn a marriage into an unequal one favoring the husband, but that’s a subject for another essay.)

This is why the General Authorities have stressed the “absolute equal partnership” of Adam and Eve, and the translation of the Hebrew in Genesis as “rule with,” not “rule over,” and many, many other instances too numerous to mention here.  Gender equality is not some Johnny-come-lately and ultimately gratuitous element of God’s vision of marriage, as strongly implied by Hancock . . . we are commanded to presume the equality of our spouse as we approach the marriage altar, for otherwise we cannot truly love them.  We hopefully then deepen that vision of our spouse’s equality in the divine work that is procreation and parenthood.  Indeed, given that we believe Adam and Eve lived this law, a gender-equal marriage is the ultimate traditional marriage.

Thus, while we honor the marriages of our forebears that did not have the full light of the Restored Gospel on these matters, we also rejoice that where they are now, that full light shines in their lives, permitting them a fullness of joy in marriage.  And we pledge to them in all solemnity that we will not diminish that fuller light for their posterity, because their hearts yearn for their posterity to live as they themselves now do, and not as they once did in mortality.

As part of this debt we owe our forebears, we must not fail to notice, nor fear to acknowledge, how integrally love and equality are tied in LDS doctrine.  In a very real sense, love between human beings is not love if it does not have equality as either its foundation or its hoped-for destination.  This is an amazing, unique, and healing contribution of LDS theology.  This is “good news” indeed!  We must not let fear persuade us to hide under a bushel the greater light that God has given us through the Restoration.

Hancock asserts that he and his wife don’t talk about and are not preoccupied with equality.  My husband and I aren’t preoccupied with it, either.  There is nothing to talk about or be preoccupied with if equality is lived.  But all wives can tell you that when equality is compromised in marriage, love withers.  When equality is compromised, then there is definitely something to talk about—because then a commandment is being broken, and very sad consequences will come naturally from that choice, with these sad consequences ordained as just by God. 

2) LDS prophets have emphasized that the marriage relationship is not a mere means to a good end, but a good end in itself which then makes possible other good ends.  Men and women are that they might have joy: the scripture does not say men and women are that they might have children, though I believe bearing and raising my children with my husband is a very large part of the joy I feel in my life and I look forward to it being my main work in the next life. 

But another very large part of the joy I feel is in the relationship I have with my spouse, which existed before we had children and will exist after the children have left our home to create their own.  (There are other types of joy, too, that may even be unrelated to marriage and children, such as the joy of feeling the sun on your skin on a fine spring day, or the joy of spending time with a beloved friend.)  Hancock had to have had at least a nine month relationship with his wife before children arrived: the spousal relationship precedes procreation and continues during procreation. The quality of that relationship is of great importance to the Lord.  God expects us to be good spouses even before becoming parents.

President Spencer W. Kimball said something pretty radical along these lines in The Miracle of Forgiveness: “The Lord says in definite terms,

“Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and thou shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22).  The words none else eliminate everyone and everything.  The spouse then becomes pre-eminent in the life of the husband or wife and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse.  We sometimes find women who absorb and hover over the children at the expense of the husband . . . This is in direct violation of the command: None else.” (pp. 250-251). 

Notice two things here: it is a commandment of the Lord to love your wife, and as we have seen, you cannot love your wife in a way that will be blessed by the Lord unless you are convinced that she is your equal.  God cares whether you love your wife, and that means God cares whether you are convinced your wife is your equal.  Notice also that President Kimball’s sole specific example of the violation of this commandment involves a spouse that puts children before the other spouse.  Apparently, President Kimball saw some primacy in the spousal relationship that even transcended the joint work and responsibilities of parenthood.  This recognition is what I find to be unaccountably absent from the discussion by Hancock and Hertzberg, though Sherlock does allude to it in one of his hypothetical cases.

I had a visiting teaching companion once, who when asked about her husband, would say, “He doesn’t drink.  He doesn’t beat me.  He doesn’t run around with other women.  I guess he is a good husband.”  Though she laughed when she said this, there was a sadness in her eyes.  While there was no overt oppression and domination in her marriage, the sadness came because there was meant to be so much more to spousal love than the absence of harm: there was meant to be deep joy in each other, stemming from deep love tied to a deep conviction of each other’s equality and equal worth.  There are sins of commission in marriage, but there are also sins of omission that preclude us from feeling the “heaven on earth” that God intended marriage to be.

Women cringe at many male defenses of marriage simply because the spousal relationship is so often characterized as a necessary but ultimately not vitally important element of marriage, certainly one not deserving of much attention or thought.  Women cringe because to see one’s spouse as merely a means of getting children is, frankly, soul-destroying.  I will never forget one Women’s Conference, when an LDS woman approached me after I gave a talk on LDS doctrine concerning women.  Her husband had repeatedly told her that she was “merely a biological vessel to build up his priesthood kingdom.”  Was that all she was, she wondered?  And if that is all her husband thought she was, did that mean that was all she was to God?

Brethren, you do great harm to women in defending marriage on the basis of procreation alone without simultaneously discussing the spousal relationship.  Let’s explore that theme further.

3)  LDS General Authorities have stated explicitly that priesthood holders must reject hierarchical marriage.  In a recent conference address, Elder Richard G. Scott made this plain:

“In some cultures, tradition places a man in a role to dominate, control, and regulate all family affairs.  This is not the way of the Lord.  In some places the wife is almost owned by her husband, as if she were another of his personal possessions.  That is a cruel, mistaken vision of marriage encouraged by Lucifer that every priesthood holder must reject.  It is founded on the false premise that a man is somehow superior to a woman.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.” [1]

There are several important points in this passage.  First, not everything that smacks of “tradition” is good.  Tradition is not something we blindly revere in the LDS Church.  The Book of Mormon is replete with the phrase “the traditions of the fathers,” lamenting their falseness and the lasting harm done thereby to societies.  Where tradition is at odds with LDS doctrine, the tradition must be relinquished, we have been told on numerous occasions.  According to Elder Scott, there are traditions of marriage in the world that are just plain wrong.

These traditions are not only wrong, they are Satanic, being actively promoted by Lucifer, according to Elder Scott.  Again we see that the nature of the spousal relationship is not some footnote in our understanding of marriage: it has a great spiritual import in and of itself.  Why would Satan wish to encourage hierarchy in marriage?  Because hierarchy undercuts love and diminishes joy . . . Because the children born into that marriage will also have their potential for love and for joy diminished . . . Because hierarchical marriage does not bring the blessings of God, but rather represents the breaking of several explicit commandments . . . Because making a spouse into an instrument for one’s own ends, even if they are good ends, is dehumanizing and sinful.  A wife is in no way “merely a biological vessel to build up [the husband’s] priesthood kingdom.”  She is not an instrument, but a potentially divine being, a child of God, with full and equal worth, and an end in herself.  God is deeply offended by hierarchical marriage—which is precisely why Satan encourages it.

Notice also that Elder Scott makes rejection of hierarchical marriage a priesthood duty (“every priesthood holder must reject,” emphasis added). Some men do not see the connection between their priesthood and an obligation to their sisters to promote their equality.  However, the priesthood was restored not only to restore right relations between men and God, but also to restore right relations between men and women.  The priesthood not only has a duty to God, but a duty to women as part of the priesthood’s duty to God.  When LDS men fail to publicly reject visions of marriage that embrace inequality when they are engaged in a defense of marriage, they fail in an important priesthood duty. Our General Authorities have been quite plain: in every talk extolling marriage, some mention is made of the quality of the spousal relationship, and in recent years that discussion has been incorporating unambiguous phrases like “absolute equal partnership” and “not his subordinate” that emphasize the unique LDS vision of non-hierarchical marriage. God cares whether LDS men speak out in the public square on this issue, and expects them to do so as part of their priesthood obligations. The Brethren stand as an example to us in this.

4)  My final point is this: the defense-of-marriage movement in the United States will falter and fail if it retains such an exclusive focus on procreation as it has to date.  Stunning procreative success has been achieved outside of marriage in human history—the genes of Genghis Khan are found in about 1% of all men on the planet, and it is sure that Genghis Khan did not marry all those women he raped.  Even procreation in the 21st century can achieve extraordinary levels without marriage--Nadya Suleiman with 14 children is proof of that.  And now there need not even be sexual intercourse between a man and a woman to procreate, much less marriage.

Furthermore, the Satanic vision of marriage can excel at procreation, too.  A woman who has no say in whom she marries and at what age, who has no say in whether her husband has sex with her, who has no say in her own fertility, who has no access to or no right to use family planning, can produce many more children than a woman who is treated as an equal in marriage—assuming she doesn’t die in childbirth first.

So to hang one’s defense of marriage on fecundity is querulous at best.  You can have fecundity galore without marriage.  God knew that.  God knew there could be multiplying and replenishing without marriage, and plenty of it.  God didn’t need to institute marriage to fill the world with human beings; Adam and Eve could have simply “shacked up” after the Fall.  (And with the American Academy of Pediatrics now pronouncing that “a considerable body of professional literature provides evidence that children with parents who are homosexual can have the same advantages and the same expectations for health, adjustment, and development as can children whose parents are heterosexual,” things are looking grim for the parenting argument as well. [2] )

No, there is something more to the marriage relationship than procreation, something that is still unique to marriage.  It serves some purpose that other means of procreation do not.  That something more is gender equality, which we have seen is integrally tied with the possibility of love between the spouses, as well as Zion-building relations between all men and women in society. There is no other institution besides companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage that has any chance of promoting gender equality broadly within a human society. Tied to its prevalence are not only the possibilities for love and for Zion, but also the possibilities for democracy and peace (see the Cassler essay in this issue). 

Why?  Because God ordained it so—and LDS scriptures tell us in no uncertain terms that God ordained it so because God cares what happens to his daughters. He cares whether his daughters are exploited, betrayed, or abandoned.  God ordained marriage so that his daughters would not weep, and God ordained marriage so that men would treat women as equals. Marriage is the institution that God intended to place his daughters on equal footing with his sons, so that love, joy, Zion, and the possibility of love, joy, and Zion for the children of that relationship would abound. Lucifer’s counterfeit, as with all of his counterfeits, applies the very same term, “marriage,” to an institution that in many cultures does the opposite of what God intended. 

What men learn (or do not learn) in marriage with regard to gender equality affects not only wives, but all women in society.  In my professional life, I am surrounded by men.  I have found that men with loving, gender-equal marriages have no difficulty treating me as an equal.  However, to the degree that a man is the husband in a marriage that tends towards the hierarchical, I find as a rule that to that same degree he cannot relate to me as an equal.  I have experienced men whose highly hierarchical marriages have led them to refuse to even acknowledge my presence in a room, much less my authority to speak in a meeting. Unless a man lives gender equality in his home life, he is handicapped in practicing it in the public realm.  He does not value the perspective and priorities of women, and does not see why he should heed women. Marriage is the precondition not only for men to treat their wives as equals, but for men to treat all women in society as equals. God’s institution of marriage was intended to produce a broad and good effect on all societal relations between men and women, in addition to the effect it has on a specific couple: it is the foundation of societal gender equality, which is an essential foundation for Zion. 

Some might say, well, you could have gender equality when a couple lives together or hooks up, couldn’t you?  God is pretty plain on this point: such relationships create a hierarchy between men and women.  These forms of relationships undermine equality between men and women, with the women reaping the majority of the sad consequences.  How do we know this?  We need only turn to the Book of Jacob:

“For behold, thus saith the Lord: This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures, for they seek to excuse themselves by committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son.  Behold, David and Solomon had many wives and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord.  Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph.  Wherefore I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.  Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none . . . For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people in the land of Jerusalem, yea, and in all the lands of my people; because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands.  And I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of my people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.  For they shall not lead away captive the daughters of my people because of their tenderness, save I shall visit them with a sore curse, even unto destruction" (Jacob 2:23-33).

Concubinage is the old-fashioned word for what today we call living together or hooking up.  In the Lord’s eyes, concubinage, whether ancient or modern, hurts specifically his daughters.  Notice that the Lord states that one of the reasons he brought Lehi and his family out of Jerusalem was because he wanted to stamp out concubinage and polygamy!  (Divinely sanctioned polygamy, as we understand from D&C 132, is a temporally-bounded Abrahamic sacrifice for which there will always be a ram in the thicket in this life or the next.  Without divine sanction, it is one of the most grievous sins.  For this reason, the LDS Church does not baptize polygamists, even if they live in a land where polygamy is legal.)  Even in situations where a man and a woman live together and aspire to love and equality, that quest is undercut by the lack of official commitment entailing legal responsibility by the man to his sexual partner; this lack of legally enforceable commitment perfectly symbolizes the unequal footing on which women are placed by such relationships.

The only context that pleases God, then, is for men and women to have sex (and children) in companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage--because in any other context, having sex with a man will inevitably put women on a lower footing than men.

But why should men and women form sexual relations at all, then, when there are so many ways for inequality, and thus the extinguishment of love, to take place?  Perhaps same-sex relationships would provide gender inequality? To the contrary: a society which revolves around same-sex relations would inexorably turn into a Mannerbund, where men would inevitably make women explicit societal inferiors and second class citizens.  Gender apartheid makes it impossible for men and women to learn to truly love each other, with the attendant equality that LDS know is part and parcel of love.  Gender apartheid precludes specifically men from learning to treat the women in their society as equals.

And that learning may cascade outward in ways we might not imagine, as the Cassler essay shows.  As Agacinski puts it, “Isn’t the other sex, for each, the closest face of the stranger?  Thus it is crucial . . .because the way we think the other sex determines how we think about the other in general.” [3] True love in companionate heterosexual monogamous marriage can teach us how to love all people better, for it teaches us how to love someone who is arguably the first and foundational “other.”

No, as fraught with danger as it is, God ordained marriage because he cared whether his daughters weep, and he cares whether they are treated as equals—whether they are truly loved—by men.

Hancock ends his commentary by reminding us that the Family Proclamation talks about the cursings that will come to a society that abandons traditional marriage, as he defines it.  I would like to extend that point: God curses societies that practice prevalent hierarchical marriage, concubinage, polygamy, and other practices that undermine gender equality in marriage. And it is a rejection of gender equality that brings these curses.  To see this, let us turn again to the Book of Jacob.

After condemning in the harshest terms the polygamy and concubinage of the Nephites, Jacob prophesies God will “destroy” them, and even worse, “because of your filthiness, [you will] bring your children unto destruction, and their sins heaped upon your heads at the last day” (Jacob 3:10).  Furthermore, Jacob pronounces that the Lord favors the Lamanites and will not destroy them because they eschew these practices:

“Behold, the Lamanites, whom ye hate . . . are more righteous than you, for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be any whoredoms among them.  And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them, and one day they shall become a blessed people” (Jacob 3:5-6; emphasis added).

Now step back a moment.  The Nephites had the Gospel, scriptures, temples, priesthood, and prophets.  The Lamanites not only had none of those advantages, but instead were saddled with the lies their fathers had told them.  How is it possible that the Lord would destroy the former, and save and have mercy on the latter?  If he destroyed the Nephites, there would no longer be a people with the Gospel, or scriptures or temples or priesthood or prophets or even the truth about what happened when Lehi left Jerusalem.  How could there possibly be something more important than these things?

And yet there was something more important, in the eyes of the Lord: “Behold, [among the Lamanites] their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children” (Jacob 3:7), whereas among the Nephites, “Ye have broken the hearts of your tender wives, and lost the confidence of your children, because of your bad examples before them; and the sobbings of their hearts ascend up to God against you” (Jacob 2:35).  When the love between husband and wife is broken by gender inequality, love dies and destructions come—because God cares if his daughters are weeping. I say it again: God curses societies that practice prevalent hierarchical marriage, concubinage, polygamy, and other practices that undermine gender equality in marriage.

Link arms for the sake of political expediency with those who believe in the Satanic vision of hierarchical marriage?  Not lift up our voices about the difference between the LDS vision of marriage and hierarchical marriage, instead lumping them both under the obfuscating catchphrase “traditional marriage” that hinders distinction between Satanic marriage and true marriage?  Omit this crucial distinction when defending marriage publicly, thus hiding our light under a bushel? Consider gender equality between spouses some politically correct silliness and distraction rather than a defining feature of what God purposes by ordaining marriage and commanding love and procreation in marriage? 

No LDS person would be so reckless: the judgments of God literally hang in the balance. Let us awake and arise, and stand united on this firm ground God has given us.


[1] Richard G. Scott, “Honor the Priesthood and Use It Well,” Ensign, November 2008, 46. [Back to manuscript]

[2];109/2/339 , [Back to manuscript]

[3] Sylviane Agacinski, The Parity of the Sexes, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001: xxxi. [Back to manuscript]


5) Richard Sherlock Responds to Ben Hertzberg, May 2009

Ben Hertzberg’s response to my article is thoughtful and vigorous. I appreciate his commentary as just what SquareTwo should be doing. My essay was an attempt to provide a reasonably comprehensive conservative argument about gay marriage. It was necessarily done with a broad brush, primarily because no such forceful argument has yet been done for the LDS community. The work that was available was not nearly good enough.

Hence, Ben has been kind enough to focus much more deeply on core issues than I was able to do in my first paper. He has addressed issues that I knew from the outset needed further elaboration. In so doing he has advanced the discussion. I will show that he is wrong on most of his substantive arguments. He has, however, made a valuable contribution.

Ben first criticizes my too-brief handling of the issues regarding the role of religious reasons in public debate. I do not think it serves our debate here to decide which of this vast literature is right and which is wrong.  But a few points are worth noting.  Ben has got Rawls just dead wrong. The later Rawls, the Rawls of Political Liberalism, simply did not want religious reasoning in public debate. What he called “comprehensive doctrines,” e.g. Christian theology or Aristotelian metaphysics, were not to ground public debate in liberal regimes. If religious reasons must be supported by “compelling public reasons,” then the idea that they are religious reasons is superfluous and can be dropped. Rawls’ own particular animus and those of his acolytes like Stephen Macedo, was toward serious evangelical Christians involving themselves in public policy debates with their faith as their anchor.

I believe this means that, according to Rawls, religious communities must cease being religious when they address the public square. They must, in effect, offer reasons for a public policy that they do not in fact find completely sufficient for the policy they advance. The best reasoning on these issues, in my view, includes natural law and divine law, to use thomistic categories, or reason and revelation if you will. But how can it be healthy for discussion when one party must dissemble or worse on the real reasons for their position?

I think I got the fundamental line of liberal theory precisely right in my essay. As I and others have shown, liberalism’s greatest thinkers, Hobbes and Locke, were hostile to Christianity at the deepest level, though they did not say so as openly as later writers.  As Tom Lindzey has shown, even Madison’s support for toleration and disestablishment masked a deep hostility to the influence of religion on politics.

The deepest problem is that political and moral philosophy require for their completion a metaphysics of the human good, which for most of us is grounded in religion, though it does not have to be. This comprehensive metaphysics, what Rawls would have called a “comprehensive doctrine” and excluded from liberalism, is the nest within which a humane and fulfilling liberalism can be sustained. This nest can be found sub rosa in the habits, practices and beliefs of citizens as they live in communities, neighborhoods, and families. It is found in our moral lives everywhere, so much so that we do not recognize it.  When we play a game, we take turns. When someone is distracted, we do not move a chess piece. We recognize human life as a higher good than property when we take our children or someone else’s from a burning building rather than jewelry or money.

By itself liberalism cannot provide this theological/metaphysical ambit within which serious thought and ordinary lives can take place. This is the ambit of telos or purpose that the ancient and medieval thinkers knew well and which serious religion like Mormonism knows now. The founders of modern liberalism, especially those who offered a reasonably comprehensive philosophy, e.g. Hobbes, Locke and Hume, also knew this kind of metaphysics and consciously rejected it. Their philosophies are devoid of any comprehensive teaching about the ends or purposes of human life, beyond the basest.

Consider then two examples to show that even liberals require what liberalism cannot provide. China has, for decades, had a government policy of one child per family and has even used forced abortions to enforce the policy.  Most of us, including international human rights organizations, regard this policy  as morally wrong, a violation of basic human rights. Yet the early 20th century American experiment with prohibition of alcohol is only regarded as imprudent or stupid. The difference here cannot be interference with liberty. Nor can it be the desires of the individual. Alcoholics or addicts have been known to sacrifice the welfare of their children to secure drugs or alcohol. They only way to make sense of this sort of judgment is to recognize that children are a true human good, a pearl without price. By contrast, alcohol, however much desired, is not.

As a second example, consider care for the comatose and the dying. Since the 1960’s in America there has been a rich and vigorous debate about life-extending care for those who are in a persistent vegetative state (i.e., permanently comatose) or who are dying and can be kept alive longer with difficulty. Much of this debate is highly technical, such as the distinction made in Catholic moral theology between the use of respirators to keep a PVS patient alive and feeding tubes to do the same thing. I personally have contributed fairly extensively to this literature.

But let’s step back for a moment. If we know what the now-incompetent person wanted in this situation, respect for agency would seem to require us to act accordingly.  In most cases, however, we do not know this. If we do not, then we should act in the best interest of the person. But what is best interest? If one believes that this life all one has, when you are dead, your body rots and you do not and will never exist, why should it ever be in your interest to stop dialysis or respirators?  In unexplained cases persons do come back from coma after years in such a state. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to keep going as long as possible if this life was all you had and when it is gone you will have no more? Others find that respect for human dignity suggests that going to the “max” in trying to stay alive while using enormous resources of time and talent is wrong.  What I am trying to show here is not which of these and many other arguments is right--I am showing that these kinds of practical issues require us to address foundational questions.

On the other hand, suppose you are convinced that there is an afterlife that is much better than anything we have here. Joseph Smith said that if we knew how good even the terrestrial kingdom was we would want to go there immediately. If you believe this, then why would you want to be kept alive for months or years with technology that will leave others with enormous debts and the expenditure of resources that could be used to care for the poor? I believe that this sort of judgment about whether to hold onto life to the bitter end requires us to adopt one or another of these control beliefs about the destiny of human beings.

It may be thought that these are only beliefs with a private import, but this is a mistake. A substantial majority of Medicare spending is for patients in the last six months of life.  Shouldn’t one’s control beliefs about human destiny play a role in one’s judgment about public spending on the last six months of life? This is even more to the point as America continues to debate plans to provide government health insurance to millions of Americans who lack such insurance. To make any such decision will require judgments about the nature and destiny of human existence.  Will abortion be covered? What about in vitro fertilization? Contraception? Viagra? Prolonged care for the comatose? The questions are endless, but the point is the same. Bodily health cannot be understood apart from a vision of the human good as such. Public policy to instantiate a right to health care requires the very set of beliefs about the human good that liberalism sought to exclude in its teaching about rights.

Ben seems to think that I reject liberalism en masse. I do not. I believe that liberalism must be nested in an ambit of habits, virtues, and beliefs that cannot come from liberalism itself. He makes reference to the American founding that I too admire. But the founding should not be confined to the speeches and writings of the founders, or the founding texts. We should also look at how the founding era was rooted in a deeply religious citizenry that was profoundly protestant, and committed to their local communities, churches and families.

I do not believe one can find an argument in any of the great liberal theorists, for example, for the precious good of marriage and childbirth. They say nothing about the wonder and goodness of marriage or marital intimacy. Nor do they start their politics as Aristotle does with human beings in families. Government by consent is necessary for human flourishing. Tyranny defies agency and turns citizens into children or slaves. But political liberalism is not sufficient for human happiness. Look within yourself. Are you happiest, are you most fulfilled when you are participating in a public meeting, on a city council or in a legislature? Or are you more fulfilled in a deeper way playing with your children, spoiling your grandchildren, or caressing your spouse? Liberalism will justify the nobility of self-government in city councils and legislatures. But it cannot give an account of the deeper nobility of marriage and children. Something else must provide that which makes freedom fit for human beings and human beings fit for self-government.

I appreciate the fact that Ben is convinced that the Mormon church cannot and should not approve of gay marriage in the church. He does not, like some, believe that the church should change its standards in this regard. All to the good. In a broader view however, his view is deeply troubling. He does not seem to think that Mormonism has an argument about gay marriage that can be applied to public law in the American regime.

I think this is wrong in several ways. First, if the Church’s position is based on revelation, as Ben admits, why shouldn’t the Church proclaim this truth to the world boldly and without shame? The Proclamation on the Family, for example, is not directed only to members. It is directed to the world. Those of us who think it is profoundly correct should not be shy in saying so.

Secondly, I think there is more than one way that churches, including ours, can speak to the wider world. One way is to make a discursive argument out of their faith tradition, with philosophical tools as necessary, to defend what they know as truth. This is what most people expect churches to do on matters of public policy. This move has its place. But it is only one move. A second move is for faith to provide the context or ambit within which reason always operates. I will argue this more below, but the fundamental problem of all modern moral theory is the attempt to construct a theory of the right without a teaching about the good. This, I think, is per se impossible. If I am right about this, then another way that faith can ground morality, even public morality, is to provide that teaching about the ends of human life that constitute the true good, without which true morality is impossible.

There is yet a third way that faith can speak to the public square. Faith can bear witness to the truth it knows. It can proclaim truth, as distinct from arguing for it. Do our missionaries argue for Mormonism? Not if they are successful. They bear witness to the gospel. Testimony, we call it. Do we ask people to read Nibley or the FARMS publications before they read the Book of Mormon? When Martin Luther King stood at the Lincoln Memorial in August of 1963, what is the part of the speech we remember? The only part we remember was not an argument but a bearing of witness: “I have a dream that one day the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveholders will lie down together in the red clay hills of Georgia…” Actually, this comes at the end and was not part of the prepared text. At the end of the speech, King threw away the prepared text and “spoke the words I was given.” If we look at the great speeches that transformed America--Lincoln at Gettysburg, Johnson demanding passage of the Voting Rights Act--we find a witness bearing, not an argument.  Mormonism understands better than anyone else the power of testimony which is trans-rational in its power, not, I repeat not, irrational. Thus I believe that faith has powerful ways of arguing and showing to the culture its message about gay marriage and many other issues. These ways may be distinctively religious but not completely so.

Furthermore, I fear that Ben has fallen into a trap that too many Mormons fall into when they address public issues like gay marriage or stem cell research. The trap comes in two versions. The first version holds that if the church has not said anything specific about an issue like embryonic stem cell research then members are “entitled” to hold any position whatsoever on the issue at hand.  If entitled is reduced to, “I won’t be officially chastised or worse,” I suppose this is correct.  But in a deeper sense, this idea is simply wrong. Because the church has not said anything specific about cloning to produce a child, does that absolve us of thinking it through and seeing if it is morally acceptable? Of course not. Thinking that as long as one does not run into ecclesiastical trouble anything is acceptable is an intellectually unreflective relativism.

The second version of the trap is somewhat more sophisticated and this is the one that Ben seems to fall into. This is partially my fault, because in my original essay I did not do enough to show the error of this move. This move holds that if the church has not taken a specific, official position on an issue then Mormonism as a body of theological, metaphysical and moral convictions must lead to no particular conclusions on the specific issues.  If the official church has said nothing, then Mormonism itself must be silent. This is a better version of the trap and it is pervasive error among Mormons. Partly this may be due to the fact that those of us who disagree with this conclusion have not argued forcefully or frequently enough. Yet carefully thought through, this position simply won’t do. Though we do not have the rich tradition of moral theology found in Catholicism and our lineup of thinkers is small by comparison, this is work we should do and SquareTwo’s mission is to facilitate it.

For example, shouldn’t the Mormon belief in eternal marriage cast a long shadow on easy divorce, e.g., no fault divorce? Does not this belief have something to add to the need to make divorce harder to get, or the development of legal forms such as covenant marriage in which, if the parties enter into it, divorce is much harder to get? Shouldn’t the Mormon conviction about the centrality of human freedom lead us to think carefully about government programs that undermine freedom either by making government too intrusive or effort so unrewarding? This Mormon commitment to freedom is rooted in a metaphysical pluralism of God and persons that is richer than that in other versions of Christianity.  Thus it has theological roots that, when thought through, have enormous moral and public policy implications.

The Mormon creation narratives in the Bible and the Pearl of GreatPrice present a world that is precisely ordered by God, an order that can be grasped by us, but which is given by God. This theology of divine order in nature ought to cast a shadow on the sufficiency of naturalistic explanations of the coming of life and the Darwinian naturalistic explanation of the development and diversity of life. The very Nicholas Wolterstorff whom Ben refers to, demonstrated years ago that all of us have “control beliefs” that are the horizon within which all thought takes place. For us, Mormonism in all of its richness and beauty should be the “control beliefs” that form our thought, structuring the problems we investigate and the conclusions we reach.

In my original essay I was not careful enough in connecting the nature of marriage to the creation of a family for an astute reader like Ben. Nor was I thorough enough in articulating the natural law roots of my thinking. I willingly admit to be a natural law thinker. Of the available ways of connecting theology and the moral life the natural law/divine law framework taken from Aquinas is clearly superior, especially for Mormons, as my forthcoming book, Mormonism and the Moral Life will make clear. I also think that the new natural law thinkers are right in their approach. Germain Grisez’s most eminent actual student, Joe Boyle, is a personal friend of mine. I think that their view is consistent with Aquinas and more rigorous than the alternative developed by Ralph McInerny and Russell Hittenger. It is also true that some of the most profound work connecting reproduction to marital intimacy has been done by Janet Smith, a brilliant Catholic philosopher who is attached to a more traditional natural law view. To go more deeply here would be more inside baseball than our readers probably can stand.

But Ben’s understanding of the natural law view in general and the new natural law in particular has many mistakes. First, the new natural law thinkers do not derive the meaning of marital love from the biology or physical form of human beings as Ben seems to think. This is a move they deliberately do not make. The burden of Germain Grisez’s first book was to show just how wrong this move is.

Furthermore, Ben is too imprecise when he talks about non-reproductive intimacy. Neither the new natural law or the older version condemns the intimacy of the sterile, the older or those practicing natural family planning. What is condemned is anti-reproductive intimacy that represents the willful rejection of the totality of the gift to the other. This distinction between non-reproductive acts and anti-reproductive acts is crucial. A non-reproductive act is an act that, due to some natural impediment such as age or sterility, cannot produce new life.  But the intent of the partners does not determine the reproductive character of the act.  The act is not intentionally performed in a manner that precludes reproduction. The partners remain open to life itself and to new life in particular.  If a couple thought that they were too old to be fertile and they were mistaken, they would welcome the new life.

Anti-reproductive acts are those that are intentionally incapable of bringing forth new life. Here the partners themselves determine that the act is not open to new life. This is a willful rejection of life.  I see nothing wrong with this distinction and much to commend it at the deepest level. Anti-reproductive acts reject the fullness of the gift to the other because they reject the life-giving telos of the act. If the act is intended for some kind of pleasure, as Ben seems to think because of his unreflective charges of sexism, then at the deepest level the partners are thinking of themselves, not truly the other. The New Testament should be our guide here.  In the New Testament there is an often-made analogy between God’s love for the world and spouses’ love for each other. Let’s think it through. Does God hold anything back from the world itself or persons in particular? I think the scriptural answer must be no. He does not give us always what we want. But he always gives us what we need. His love for us is full and complete, holding nothing back. We often reject his gift either through ignorance or willfulness but he gives completely.  So couples ought to give completely to the other, holding nothing back. How can this fullness be realized, when the act is so pleasurable in a purely physical sense? By aiming at a third that flows from but is greater than the other: new life that only they, together, in a complete sense can bring forth. As an aside, I note that Ben frequently confuses intent and purpose in ways that render his argument imprecise. To go further would also be too much inside baseball.

In my original essay, I did not carefully enough make this distinction between non-reproductive and anti-reproductive acts, and as such I may have led Ben astray. Nor did I argue clearly enough that intimacy must be open to new life, not actually reproductive to be justified.  Ben himself, however, does not think through this distinction and as such he misinterprets the natural law position and mine, something for which I bear some responsibility.

In his moral analysis Ben does not make a real argument, he simply steps into a trap I have already noted and never gets out. His argument, such as it is, seems to be that since the LDS church leaders “do not condemn the use of birth control,” my position must not be a sound Mormon position. This is not moral analysis. It is an avoidance of moral analysis. The Mormon church has not officially condemned thermonuclear war or female circumcision.  Does Ben think either of these is morally acceptable? Ben must show why the natural law view is wrong, not just that official Mormonism has not endorsed it.

Ben, I think, makes two further errors in his analysis of my moral argument. First he says that marital intimacy can be justified by “the pleasure and emotional attachment occasioned by enjoying sex together.” Though Ben says that “husbands and wives” enjoy such, this same argument is made by adulterers and any of the other cases I originally noted, e.g., father/daughter relations or worse. The principle applies across cases that Ben himself rejects. So either this principle that Ben announces must be wrong, or such cases themselves must be acceptable. Since we both reject the cases, his principle needs revision.

In a footnote, he cites research showing that “ legally recognizing gay marriage does not harm heterosexual  families.” This misses the point I explicitly made. My argument is a moral/logical one, not an empirical one.  I believe that the principle on which support for gay marriage rests logically leads to the cases I presented. Ben has not shown that it will not. For this purpose empirical data are largely, if not wholly irrelevant.

Though I have shown the weakness and imprecision of Ben’s theological, moral, and philosophical arguments, I think that the weakest part of his essay is the political part.  Let me be frank at the outset. I am, by argument and inclination, a moral maximalist, especially on issues as crucial as gay marriage or abortion.  On issues such as these, I do not regard compromise on principles as either desirable or honorable. Compromise on tactics, yes if need be. But on principles the way Ben’s comment seems to advocate, no.  His examples of laws that it would be wrong to have or enforce do not lead to the conclusions he thinks they do. Laws abridging conscience are not really relevant to the question of specific actions. The actions he cites such as selfishness and adultery involve laws that are unenforceable. A law against co-habitation, straight or gay, would likewise be unenforceable. But a law prohibiting gay marriage by churches or public officials is clearly enforceable.  A law prohibiting churches from having a blessing ceremony for gay couples would infringe on the rights of churches. But prohibiting a legally enforceable marriage would not.

An example may help to show this point. I believe that if one is convinced that human life and moral worth begin at conception, a point I am willing to argue at length, then deliberate, intentional abortion is never justified.  Once having got the principle right, I believe that an appropriate public policy in America today would be to hold that abortion should be illegal, except in a number of cases. If you define the cases broadly enough, as was done in the reform laws of the 1960’s, such as the one Governor Reagan signed in California, then you will not actually prevented anyone who wants an abortion from getting one. But you will have started at the correct moral place. I and a colleague argued this point extensively in the early 1990’s.

Ben’s discussion of “political reasons” is unconvincing. The anti-slavery and civil rights movements were moral movements that required political actors to respond. I regard slavery as wrong in any political context or time. Contexts or facts are irrelevant. I regard empirical evidence as only partially relevant to the greatest moral/political questions of our time or any time. In the late 1940’s, would any estimate, however large, of the blood and treasure we would spend in confronting Soviet expansionism have justified President Truman in saying no to the principle of containment?  Of course not.

Do the facts about capital punishment have anything decisive to say about it as a public policy? No. Proponents of capital punishment can willingly admit the fact that with the drawn-out appeals process, life in prison is cheaper for taxpayers. Both sides can cite statistics regarding the deterrent effect. One side shows that it has no deterrent effect. The other side rebuts this with other studies.  The strong debate is not about “the facts.” Those who support capital punishment believe that in some particularly gruesome cases this punishment is the only way to express our moral outrage. Opponents believe that all life, even the most criminal, is sacred or precious and that intentional killing, whatever the “facts,” is wrong.

Foundationally, Ben’s description of “political reasons” begs too many questions. His description of “political reasons” sounds like they involve either a “balancing test” used by courts trying to resolve difficult questions, or a utilitarian calculus. He writes of balancing goods diminished or supported by various policies and of asking, “what legitimate interests or goods does a given practice or behavior promote?” Though these are commonly employed methods of political reasoning, they cannot be all there is. Ben, are there no intrinsic or inalienable goods or evils? Surely you do not mean that slavery or pedophilia is ever good? Isn’t the murder of a child intrinsically evil?

If you grant these as I think you will and must, then questions like these immediately appear. If one believes, for example, that the unborn are morally equivalent to the born, then isn’t the intentional destruction of the embryo for embryonic stem cell research the same as killing a child to get organs to transplant? People may disagree with me about the moral status of the early embryo, but let’s argue this foundational question first. If we don’t, then a balancing test is just question-begging. Merely saying that many Americans disagree with me about this so we must find a middle ground policy, is no answer. Many Americans thought that African-Americans were not human beings, either. Policy even reflected this for a while. But the belief and the policy were wrong.

Ben writes that the tragedy of this debate “is that it pits the interests of two groups who love the family against each other.” This claim presupposes that we know what a family is and that both sides agree on the definition. When NFL teams all love having the Vince Lombardi trophy they agree on what they are referring to and so do fans. The same is true of NHL teams and the Stanley Cup. So what is a family Ben? State this in such a way that you include gay “families” and avoid my list of counter examples, or admit that these counter examples, too, are families.

Conservative religious groups are concerned to protect religious liberty. But this is not the point of their argument about gay marriage.  No one is arguing that churches will be forced to perform or recognize gay marriages.  Churches, including but far from limited to Mormonism, are concerned about the future of civilization. This what is at stake. On this foundational issue, I regard the search for compromise as deeply misguided. Once we have the foundational principles correct, then something like a properly structured civil union policy may be workable.

The idea that Mormonism has fundamental differences with other Christian groups is true and largely irrelevant. We do have differences on some foundational theological and metaphysical issues, though not as many as some might think. Social trinitarianism, for example, is now the position of a very large number of evangelical philosophers of religion. Our metaphysical pluralism of God and persons is foundational and leads in a number of profound directions. On the issues at hand now, however, how are we at cross-purposes?  Our view of marriage is richer than that of others, but I do not see any way in which it denies or undermines the tradition. Do we regard non-temple marriages as not true marriage? Of course they do not represent the fullness of marriage, but they are marriages. Adultery is wrong whether you have a temple marriage or not.

Ben’s dispute with my essay is a valuable contribution. His argument is deeper and more sophisticated than the other unreflective fluff one gets from Mormons who support gay marriage, or at least think that the Church was wrong to get involved in the Proposition 8 battle.  His critique has forced me to be more precise than I was originally. As a result, I have sharpened my analysis and acknowledge my debt the natural law thinkers.

But Ben’s substantive argument can lead to a kind of political and moral relativism among Mormons, i.e., if the Church hasn’t said anything, then anything goes. He has failed to consider deeply the necessity of a metaphysics or theology of the human good to complete moral thinking and even liberalism itself.  Finally, his analysis of the political dimensions of the debate seems to be premised on an unacknowledged preference for unprincipled compromise. Sometimes compromise is necessary, but only when you acknowledge what the costs are. And sometimes compromise is neither honorable nor justifiable.  I believe that gay marriage is like slavery, where no compromise on principles is noble, not like smoking, something that is likewise never good, but where legal prohibition would be wrong. Ben has not convinced me otherwise.   


6) Thomas Rogers, January 2011

It's a tribute to "Square Two" that such a candid exchange--like that between Richard Sherlock, Benjamin Hertzberg and my former student Ralph Hancock--has, through its auspices, come to the attention of Mormon readers. I also thank Valerie Hudson, another former student of mine, for enabling the refreshing and fascinating "Square Two" enterprise, which reflects the same heady, free wheeling atmosphere of our discussions in BYU Honors courses when, decades ago, Ralph Valerie and I first met one another and that so engaged us. (Reminiscent, for me, of those halcyon days, the subsequent extensive yet respectful polemic between Valerie and Ralph was equally refreshing and stimulating.)

I'm struck by the quite different approaches each of the three first commentators have taken to their subject, even if, on the surface, two of them take an affirmative and the third a dissenting one. What, in my view, each of their arguments reflects and has in common ties in with a later "Signature Two" entry--Roger Barrus's "The Mormon Problem" (Fall 2010)--not to mention further affinities with two other especially thoughtful pieces, Richard L. Bushman's "On Being Ill at Ease in the World" (Summer 2009) and Robert S. Wood's "Reflections on Politics and Religion" (Fall 2009). In his thorough and well considered account of early Mormon history, Barrus details how constantly the Church found itself at odds with others and with prevailing social norms. Like no other such summation, it made me marvel at how miraculously the early Restored Church even managed to survive. Together with their testimonies, its profound teachings and communal esprit clearly motivated its convert members to sacrifice and remain as heroically faithful as so many of them did.

Our present circumstances may not be much different. Across the entire Northern Hemisphere the declining interest in religion and the increasing abandonment of traditional marriage and family values on the part of heterosexuals alone renders the Latter-day Saint way of life increasingly distinct and rare.

Even so--as Barrus points out--the Church has over time and again of late displayed a more 'pragmatic, compassionate and pluralistic' stance toward 'the other,' including homosexuals--a tacit acknowledgment of their existence (we no longer prescribe aversion therapy, for instance) and of their just claim to equal civil rights, e.g. in housing and employment. Nor does there appear to be an objection to the legality of same-sex civil unions. While Sherlock and Hancock neither evidence nor disclaim any personal prejudice against homosexuals (and if that is their position), reassuring caveats are these days appropriate and needful as, like the official Church, we delicately negotiate a precariously peaceful and amicable path with the rest of the world--both secular and religious, both without and within the fold.


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